Extensive repairs to fix the bridge to Key Biscayne begin in earnest Monday, local governments are warning residents, though no major changes to traffic patterns are expected until well after the busy Fourth of July weekend.
Miami-Dade County mailed notices last week to Key Biscayne property owners advising them of the upcoming work, scheduled as part of a year-long, $31 million project to address accelerated corrosion that in January forced a partial shutdown of the roadway.
Since county commissioners awarded engineering firm Kiewit Infrastructure the contract for the repairs in April, the company has been designing and obtaining permits for the repairs to the Bear Cut Bridge, which connects Key Biscayne to Virginia Key, and to the smaller West Bridge immediately after the Rickenbacker Causeway toll plaza, said Gaspar Miranda, an assistant director with the county’s public works department.
The westbound portions of both bridges were built in 1944. The newer eastbound portions went up in the 1980s.
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“Everything is progressing as expected,” Miranda said. “It is a lengthy process.”
Kiewit was hired to replace exposed steel beams that hold up the older, westbound portion of both bridges, and the road deck that lies above the beams, to repair extensive corrosion detected last year by county and Florida Department of Transportation inspectors. As part of the project, the contractor will also widen the Bear Cut Bridge to accommodate larger pedestrian and cycling lanes and move a water main that lies beneath the deck.
Under the contract, construction must be completed before the annual Sony Open tennis tournament begins next spring at the Crandon Park Tennis Center.
A Kiewit subcontractor, the Cunningham Group, will be in charge of public outreach for the project. It has set up a website, bearcutbridge.com, to provide updates and allow users to sign up for email or cellphone text alerts. Key Biscayne, which has its own email alerts, has notified its users of the website and the upcoming road work.
A project representative has been regularly briefing the Key Biscayne Village Council, Mayor Frank Caplan said, noting that he has spotted an increasing number of crews performing tests and carrying out preliminary work at the bridge over the past few weeks. The council has been skeptical of the county’s plan and pushed for a different one, to no avail.
“Assuming this is the project that we’re going to get, it’s good that they’re getting on with it,” Caplan said.
The first step of the Bear Cut Bridge project, according to Miranda, will be to remove asphalt from the westbound lanes, beginning from the inner lanes and working outward. At some point, county administrators have said, it’s likely that pedestrians and cyclists who have been sharing a makeshift path will be temporarily unable to cross the 1,200-foot span.
The contractor will also remove the permanent concrete barrier originally separating the westbound and eastbound lanes and install a temporary barrier that can be moved as needed as construction progresses. Miami-Dade has required Kiewit to maintain four lanes of auto traffic — two inbound toward Key Biscayne and two outbound toward the mainland — at all times during the project.
The county’s public works and waste management department is still reviewing the contractor’s proposed traffic plan for the duration of the project, Miranda said, adding that he does not expect any significant changes until well into August, when demolition of the corroded bridge structures could begin.
By then, the contractor should also have completed an analysis into the strength of the bridge’s foundations beneath the sea bed, as requested by commissioners concerned that the aging structure might not withstand new, concrete-encased beams and a wider roadway. County engineers have said they expect the repairs to extend the bridges’ life spans by 40 years.
That estimate has been questioned by Key Biscayne village officials, who have hired an engineer of their own to review the bridge foundations. A majority of the village council has argued the county should temporarily shore up the bridge instead and plan to build a completely new one.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, citing the advice of his staff engineers, has not discarded the new bridge idea but said the county could not risk a temporary fix that might not last the eight to 10 years required to build a new structure.